Dragons Richard and Lois belong to a writing group which now zooms of course; Richard shared his story written to the topic ‘the future’ and now Lois shares hers:
Vella laughed as the other two struggled up the stony path towards her, crouching beneath the overhanging branches. Santa grinned up at her, slow and steady, slow and steady, she didn’t mind that she plodded behind, and nor did she mind that as usual Vella had to beaten them to the finish. Livia smiled tightly, out of breath and irritated by having given in to Vella in the first place, and by Santa for not really caring what they did. It’s supposed to be a bloody holiday, not a bloody keep fit regime, Livia mumbled mentally. She was annoyed with herself even more, for being so grouchy, for being kiddish about having to do something she didn’t want to do, and being so short-winded and feeble when even chunky Santa was moving steadily and barely out of breath.
“Are you sure this is the right place, Liv?” Vella asked and moved over so they could sit, or in Livia’s case collapse, onto a big, white, smooth-topped boulder.
“It’s what the guide book said unless we took a wrong turn somewhere,” Santa replied. Her kindness was so casual, so deft, Livia never knew if it was intended or just spontaneous. Livia was so breathless she could barely speak, her limbs trembling, shaking like jelly.
Livia, being interested in the past, had read up about the history of the place, and had told them the story of young people from early times, climbing up the steep hillside to find the magic pool, or St Valentine’s Pool, or Lindo’s pool, or any of the other names the watery place held over the ages. It was where the unwed could peer in and at certain times see the face of their true love, the one they would marry. She told Santa and Vella the first night they were here, as they sat in the small bar, drinking wine and planning what they would do over the next few days. They’d intended to have a few days by the sea, but then Vella’s uncle offered them his small lodge for free, and free was better than paying for something.
Vella lay back on the stone, hands behind her head, eyes shut, drinking in the sunshine, Santa sat contentedly gazing round, and now Livia’s trembling had stopped, she got off the boulder. She wandered, trying to find a little shade beneath the spindly trees; she was still steaming from the hot clamber up the steep track. There was no sign of any pool, or even a puddle, the ground baked hard by the weeks of sun which had blessed the summer. Don’t say there is no blooming pool after all this, or don’t say even more that it is further up!
“So where’s the pool?” Santa asked, as if reading her mind. “It’s probably dried up, or never existed, or we’re in the wrong place, but never mind, it’s glorious up here and so peaceful!”
“Oh, we’ve got to find the pool, I want to just make sure I’m the next Mrs Travolta!” Vella stretched her arms in the air as if she was about to embrace an imaginary man.
Livia tripped over something, almost fell, but clutched a spindly silver birch and looking down saw a small wooden arrow with the word, ‘pool‘ still faintly visible. It pointed towards a rocky cliff face and at the bottom, in the shade of the entrance to a small cavity in the limestone, was a shallow pool, little more than a puddle. Was this it? Was this Saint whoever’s pool? It took her a moment to blink the sun from her eyes and see the detail in this shadowy place, and to notice the small offerings – shells arranged in a heart, a burned down candle, some wilted flowers, a string of red beads wound round a twig, feathers, coins, little things people had found in their pockets, or maybe brought especially.
“Over here!” she called, her weariness banished, the cool of the shade reviving her. Vella and Santa were impressed she’d found it and she didn’t mention the small faded wooden arrow.
“What’s all that junk?” Vella asked and bent to pick up one of the votive offerings.
“Don’t! You mustn’t do that!” exclaimed Santa, unexpectedly sharply.
“Sorry,” Vella snatched back her hand, slightly shocked at Santa’s tone. “So what do we do, how do we see our true love? How do I catch a glimpse of John waiting for me as I walk down the aisle?”
“You and blooming John Travolta!” Santa said teasing, trying to recover from her outburst. “Yes, come on Liv, what do we do?”
“I guess we should leave an offering, but before or after? Are we saying please, or thank you?”
Vella opened her mouth to make another joke, but restrained herself, she didn’t want to upset Santa, it was so unlike her to be touchy, and she was always so kind and nice. “I think we should do it before, in hope, don’t you?”
“OK, Mrs Travolta, are you going first then?” Livia asked.
They searched their pockets, Santa looked in her bag and Vella found a blue ribbon. She’d worn it in her hair but it kept sliding out.
“Should I say anything?” she asked the others, for once looking a little less confident.
“Do whatever you think you should,” Livia told her. “Do you want to be private, should we step away?” Vella didn’t say anything. “Come on, Santa, we’ll just keep back over here and let Vella make her offering.”
Livia had meant to be comical, but somehow it sounded serious. She and Santa retreated and Livia looked up, thinking it had clouded over, but no, the sky was a pellucid blue. They watched Vella step close to the pool, stop and hesitate almost as if she was offering a prayer with her ribbon. She knelt down, leaned across the water to place her small offering. She bent over the pool and looked down; she was very still, and may have whispered something or it might have been the rustle of birch leaves.
Vella stood abruptly, remembering to keep her head lowered to avoid the overhanging rock and came towards her friends, suddenly smiling. Livia was reminded of the Miracles song, my smile is my make-up I wear since my break up with you. Vella never spoke about Roger, and if his name came up she was quick to make a bitchy remark about him, but maybe deep inside she was blue.
“I’ll start planning the wedding tonight, no doubt John will be on the next plane over from the States!” she said merrily,
“Me next!” said Santa, “I have the buttons that came off my cuff when it caught on that bramble,” and she showed them the two sun coloured buttons. She had intended to sew them on again. “I wonder who I will see, I hope it’s not John Travolta!”
Vella said nothing but went back to the boulder and sat down again, hunched over and staring at the ground. Santa was looking into the pool, standing to the side so Livia could see she was smiling slightly, not mocking, but happy.
“Let me see my true love,” Santa said calmly, then knelt, placed her buttons on either side of the pool, and, resting her hands on the ground, bent low over the surface of the water.
Livia, by now was intrigued; Vella had been affected by something, probably memories of Roger and the plans they had had, and now Santa, who’d never had a long term boyfriend, was taking this very seriously. It was disturbing somehow; this had meant to be a bit of fun.
Santa slowly stood up, and whether she was ducking her head to avoid the rocks or giving a little bow, it wasn’t clear. She came back to Livia smiling.
“Well, that was jolly interesting, load of bunkum but interesting! Your turn, Liv!”
Livia had a strange twinge of nerves or anticipation or something. She approached the pool without much thought of what she would do, but she knelt and fumbled in her pockets. She had a stump of a pencil, a folded piece of paper, hanky and a rather sticky Murray Mint. She always carried a pencil in case an idea came for a story, or she noticed something unusual, or she overheard a couple of interesting sentences. She felt naked without a pencil but she put the piece of paper down and laid the pencil on top. She sat back on her heels and gazed into the water. It was surprisingly clear and had gathered in a rocky depression; she could see the bumps and lines on the surface of stone at the bottom. There were pebbles and small stones and bits of twig. She noticed a few coins among the natural debris, and there were scraps of leaf and blades of dried grass floating about. She leant slightly forward but there were no reflections of anything although the surface trembled slightly – not with anything supernatural, but with a gentle draft which came from somewhere.
Livia’s knees began to hurt, she was kneeling on something sharp which pressed against the edge of her patella. She was also beginning to get pins and needles, so slightly awkwardly, keeping her eyes hopefully on the pool she stood up, remembering to keep her head low.
She backed away and out into the sunshine which slipped a welcome mantle of warmth over her shoulders.
“What did you see, Liv?” asked Santa, but Livia shook her head and asked what she had seen. “Yes, we should keep it to ourselves, shouldn’t we!” her friend exclaimed, beaming happily. “Come on Vella, let’s head back down, I’m dying of thirst, I’ll buy the cider!”
“And I will buy the sandwiches,” Vella’s eyes had lost their usual sparkle, painted on a smile, and let Livia lead the way down the hillside.